New Hampshire-run website helped patients save millions on imaging

Despite heavy backlash against hospitals for posting incomprehensible prices online, a University of Michigan in Ann Arbor researcher found some well-designed websites may actually reduce the cost of imaging exams without confusing patients.

“While the price of health care procedures varies widely across medical providers, these prices are often difficult for patients to observe,” said Zach Brown, PhD, an assistant professor of economics at the University of Michigan, in a university release. “Consequently, individuals often choose providers without comparing prices.”

Brown looked at data from medical imaging visits, specifically x-rays, CTs and MRIs, to examine the effect of a state-run website introduced in New Hampshire that provided out-of-pocket prices to patients. All privately insured individuals in the state had access to the site, called HealthCost.

HealthCost reduced medical imaging costs by five percent for patients and four percent for insurers. According to Brown, after calculations, individuals saved around $7.9 million while insurers saved $36 million on x-rays, CTs and MRIs over the five year study period.

At the five year mark, out-of-pocket prices dropped by 11 percent for patients, and people under their deductible saw nearly double the savings during the study period, according to the release.

A new federal law took place Jan. 1, requiring hospitals post online prices for their services, including medical imaging. However, numerous reports, such as a Jan. 4 story published by Fox WRSP Illinois found understanding such prices and comparing them to be extremely difficult.

Price transparency is expected to not only benefit patients using such tools, but may help insurers negotiate lower prices and in-turn, may help individuals who don’t use pricing information, Brown wrote.

“If health care is to be left to market forces, then I believe that those markets should be transparent and competitive,” Brown said. “Reining in health care costs will require bold solutions that lift the veil on prices.”